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WHO Experts to Research Cause of Atypical Pneumonia in China
A team of experts from the World Health Organization will come to China over the weekend to work with local scientists in a bid to identify the cause of atypical pneumonia.

The WHO office in Beijing said Friday afternoon that five members of the team were experts in their respective fields, namely, virology, tropical medicine, epidemiology, infectious and respiratory diseases, and internal medicine.

The experts are expected to meet with officials of China's Ministry of Health and Chinese experts on disease control next Monday before starting a week of investigative work in Beijing, and very possibly, in the southern province of Guangdong, which has seen several cases, according to the WHO representatives.

"This mission forms an important part of the global response tothe Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) cases which have beenreported in several countries," said Alan Schnur, team leader of the WHO communicable disease control in Beijing.

The cumulative number of reported "suspect and probable" SARS cases had climbed to 306, including 10 deaths, in 12 regions and countries by Thursday, according to WHO statistics, which did not include those of inland areas of China.

China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region reported the most cases, totaling 173 including six deaths, followed by Vietnamwith 62 cases including two deaths, and Singapore with 34 cases.

"In view of the rapid spread of this disease to new countries via exposed air travelers, any country with an international airport is potentially at risk," the Geneva-based organization warned.

Similar illnesses have killed five people and left 300 others hospitalized since November in Guangdong, which neighbors Hong Kong.

Chinese Health Minister Zhang Wenkang recently told Henk Bekedam, the WHO representative in Beijing, that the outbreak had been brought under effective control and that patients had recovered and the daily lives of local residents had returned to normal.

While lacking clear evidence linking the cases in Guangdong to the most recent ones worldwide, the WHO officials have insinuated the urgency "to involve Chinese scientists and data from China in the global search for the cause of SARS, its mode of transmission and effective treatment."

As researchers around the world race to identify the cause of the contagious illness, WHO said it is "increasingly optimistic that conclusive identification of the causative agent can be announced soon."

"Research is now focused on the Paramyxoviridae family of viruses," some of which are well-known for causing mumps, measles and common respiratory ailments, said a WHO press release.

If a paramyxovirus is confirmed as the causative agent, "WHO will be in a much better position to recommend a treatment," it said.

The WHO team and Chinese experts will jointly review the laboratory, clinical and epidemiological data obtained and tests conducted during the outbreak investigations in order to make recommendations on additional investigations to identify the causative agent.

Meanwhile, WHO continued to call for worldwide vigilance and a concerted effort to defend global public health security.

In an era of close interconnection and rapid air travel, an outbreak anywhere in the world is a potential threat to heath everywhere, it said.

(People's Daily March 22, 2003)

Mystery Pneumonia Under Control
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